How the new Champions League format works – The Athletic

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How the new Champions League format works – The Athletic


This is the final season of the current Champions League format, with the competition having changed significantly from 2024-25.

At a meeting in Vienna in 2022, the UEFA Executive Committee approved a new format. There have been two years of intense debate over how this would work and several years of political wrangling between Europe’s largest parties.

Now it will be implemented from the start of the 2024-25 season, with more participating teams and more matches. The continent’s biggest teams are racing to make the most of the new format, as it is this season’s results that will determine the makeup of next season’s expanded competition.

Athleticism breaks down the changes and what they all mean…


What will the Champions League look like from 2024-25?

The number of competing teams will increase from 32 to 36, or 189 matches instead of 125, and the group stage will be replaced by a championship stage, otherwise known as the “Swiss model”.

Each team will be guaranteed eight matches in the league stage – up from 10 proposed after talks in Vienna – half of which they will play at home and half away.

The best eight teams in the championship will qualify for the round of 16. Those who finish ninth through 24th will compete in a home-and-away play-off to determine who joins the top eight in the round of 16.

Two of the four additional places in the competition will be awarded to the nations whose clubs achieve the best collective performance during the previous season. To calculate this, the total points earned will be divided by the number of teams participating in European club competitions.

This is a notable deviation from the much-maligned and heavily criticized historical coefficients over five years.

The English clubs looked well placed to win one of the extra Champions League places, but they are expected to be beaten by Italy and Germany, whose teams have outclassed them in all three UEFA competitions.

In theory, within a few years the Premier League could end up with a total of seven teams in the Champions League due to the coefficient awarded based on performance and winners in Europe’s biggest club competition and the Europa League (if these clubs did not automatically qualify otherwise). ).

Another change, clubs from the same country will be able to compete against each other in the first knockout stages. The domestic clashes are currently blocked until the quarter-finals.

The eight championship-style matches will be spread over 10 weeks and this will mean that the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League will have an exclusive week dedicated to their tournament.


(Graphic: Sam Richardson)

How is this different from what we have now?

As it stands, each team reaching the Champions League proper has played in a four-team group stage, with the top two teams reaching the round of 16. The third-placed team then progressed to the Europa League.

Those who advance then play the round of 16, and if a team manages to get past the round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and win the final, they are crowned European champions.

One element that will not change when the new system is introduced in 2024 are the two-legged semi-finals.

The Times reported in 2022 that “momentum is building towards abandoning the Champions League two-legged semi-finals, with Europe’s leading clubs backing a plan to play the semi-finals and final on a single week in a single city.

However, this is unlikely to be implemented any time soon, with UEFA committed to keeping them in place for the foreseeable future.

What impact does this have on Premier League qualification?

As things stand, four Premier League teams can qualify for the Champions League, but such is the dominance of England’s top flight that they will expect five teams to compete under the new format .

However, for the 2024-25 season it looks like these will be the usual four places for England. It comes after Manchester United and Newcastle United finished last in their Champions League groups while Arsenal and Manchester City were knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Europa League performances haven’t helped. Brighton were knocked out by Roma in the last 16 while quarter-final defeats by Liverpool and West Ham all but put the nail in the coffin of England’s hopes of a further Champions League place.

Instead, Italy rose to first place in the UEFA coefficient rankings and will have five teams in the Champions League next season. The same is likely true for Germany, who are the only nation to have two Champions League semi-finalists as well as Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League last four.


Holders Manchester City were knocked out on penalties by Real Madrid (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Who will be bored?

There is a school of thought that UEFA was only listening to the Premier League and La Liga when it came to abandoning the 10-match league stage and reducing it to eight matches.

The French Ligue 1 wanted 10 matches and did not use club coefficients. Ligue 1 has written to UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) to explain why it has reduced its national championship to 18: it anticipates an increase in European matches.

But Ligue 1 did not like the club coefficients. He wanted one of the two extra spots to go to a national champion from a mid-sized league and the other to the fifth-largest league, so that it had four spots, like the top four leagues. At that time, the fifth best league was Ligue 1.

This essentially boils down to each league wanting more, but the new format will provide balance and should encourage teams playing in one of UEFA’s three club competitions to go as far as possible and earn coefficient points for their country.

What does this mean for Premier League clubs?

At the time of the decision, Premier League sources – speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their positions – welcomed UEFA’s decision to abandon historic coefficient places and reduce the number of matches group stage from 10 to eight.

Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, is understood to have worked hard with UEFA on the proposals and it will have been seen as a victory on his behalf.

There is a real likelihood that England’s top flight will have eight teams competing in European club competitions most seasons, which is good news for those outside the established ‘Big Six’.

The rhetoric regarding the race to finish in the top four has already shifted to the top five. But, despite the boost given to teams trying to break into the established elite, it remains a top-four race for the immediate future.

The changes are also expected to satisfy disgruntled club executives who have criticized the historic coefficient proposals as deeply unfair and placing a glass ceiling on what they could achieve.

Basing it on the country coefficient eliminates the club argument.

There is, however, an argument to suggest that the financial gap between smaller teams and larger teams will only widen due to the new Champions League format. This is due to the potential for an additional spot as well as increased broadcast revenue from the competition.

How will clubs benefit financially?

In May 2023, UEFA suggested it expected a revenue increase of around 33% for its revamped club competitions.

The Champions League brings in €3.6 billion (£3.13 billion; $3.9 billion) for each of the three seasons between 2021 and 2024.

Speaking about projected revenues, UEFA competitions director Giorgio Marchetti said: “We are working on (both) conservative and more optimistic projections in a range, I would say, between 4.6 and 4 .8 billion euros.”

UEFA is in discussions with the ECA and European League groups to decide how to distribute the additional prizes.

How did it happen ?

Discussions on a radical reform of the Champions League, often heated and bitter, have continued since 2019.

There has been more than enough political maneuvering from Europe’s biggest teams, culminating in the failed European Super League attempt in April 2021.

Had the historic coefficient proposals been adopted, it would have essentially made the Champions League a closed shop – what the Super League would have been for Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona, ​​among others.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was a key figure in the plan and in recent times has seen his historic great team fall behind state-backed clubs such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

In March 2022, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin called the failed Super League plot a “non-football project” and will view the new 2024 format as a victory over clubs who conspired to implement seismic changes in European football.

UEFA knows its competition is not as marketable without Real Madrid, Barcelona and other European giants. So it was a matter of finding a mutually acceptable compromise and moving forward.

“We are confident that the chosen format is the right balance and will improve competitive balance and generate solid revenues that can be distributed to clubs, leagues and grassroots football across our continent,” Ceferin said in May 2022.

What about the Europa League and the Europa Conference League? What has changed there?

Similar format changes will be applied to both competitions.

The Europa League does away with the traditional group stage and replaces it with the championship stage, with each team having to play eight matches.

Clubs participating in the Europa Conference League will play six matches in the championship phase.

Both competitions will start with 36 teams.

(Top image design: Sam Richardson, Photo: KERSTIN JOENSSON/AFP via Getty Images)



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